Mixing Genres or Genre Mix-up?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Amanda Green author of Nocturnal Origins, Nocturnal Serenade and Nocturnal Haunts, as well as my co-worker at Naked Reader Press and a friend.

When Sarah asked if I wanted to guest blog here at ATH, I jumped at the chance. Then I had to stop and think about what I wanted to blog about. Part of me wanted to post about the latest developments in the Apple-Big 5-Department of Justice carnival. But there is so much news coming out about that right now, I haven’t had time to read it all, much less make sense of it. Part of me wanted to simply do a post on writing, maybe something that could promote my work. So, for weal or woe, writing it is.

Nocturnal Origins is the first book in the Nocturnal Lives series. When I was shopping it around to agents and publishers, I had to try to figure out how to frame it. Was it urban fantasy (now called contemporary fantasy by some)? Was it mystery or suspense? Was it paranormal romance or just romance? In other words, what was it?

The problem was that it was most of those. Like so many books these days, it mixed genres, something that used to be a very big no-no. It didn’t start out that way, but that’s how it ended up.

The basic premise for Origins is that Mackenzie Santos, a detective with the Dallas Police Department, is trying to investigate a series of brutal murders. What makes it personal is that the murders bear a frightening similarity to an attack she survived. Toss in a new partner she really doesn’t want and the fact that she keeps waking up in places she shouldn’t and the fear that she might be losing her mind.

By itself, that could describe a police procedural where the main character is flawed and possibly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In a way, that’s exactly what is happening. However, there is one more bit of information that needs to be factored in. Mac is not only waking in places where she shouldn’t, but she is doing so nude and remembering running free, hunting prey as a very large cat – a jaguar to be exact.

So, to go back to the original question of what the book is, it is a police procedural because the main focus of the book is tracking down the killer and doing so before anyone else dies. It is also urban (or contemporary) fantasy because of the fact she is also now shifting into a jaguar and because she discovers that there are others like her. While this is an important part of the book, in some ways it is a secondary part because the murders are still the focus of the book.

But, as I shopped the book around, I discovered something. The so-called professionals, the agents and editors, had blurred the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance so much that they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get past the facts that Origins was written in third person and that there was no sex in the book. In fact, one of those professionals all but accused Mac of being gay because I didn’t have her at least lusting after everything that was male. Another suggested I rewrite the book using only first person point of view. THEN they might consider it.

What these pros wanted would have changed the entire thrust of the book. I’d started out writing a police procedural that turned into something with fantastical elements in it. I found myself wondering if I’d submitted the book under a man’s name — or if I’d written the main character as a male — if they would have made the same suggestions. All I knew for sure was that to do what they wanted would have weakened the book. So, I finally took it off the market and put it away, figuring I’d try again later. Long story short, my boss at Naked Reader Press who had read the book decided that NRP would put it out and told me to send it to another of our editors to get it ready for publication. I’m thrilled to say it sold well enough to bring out Nocturnal Serenade and Nocturnal Haunts.

But what I went through trying the “traditional” publication route with Origins did make me think about how we package our books and what packages traditional publishers and agents seem to expect. It was very obvious that market trends played a part. Lady porn, as some of my friends call paranormal romance, was really taking off when I was sending Origins on the rounds. In a lot of ways, Mac fit the “kick ass heroine” mold. So why wasn’t I writing along the model the publishers and agents wanted?

The simple truth is that that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. Nocturnal Origins is a police procedural. You could take out the fantastical elements and still have a novel there. Mac would still be trying to find the killer before anyone else died. She would still be trying to learn to deal with a partner she really didn’t want. She’d still have other issues, real life issues, she’d be dealing with.

All the fantastical elements added was that she had to learn to first accept that she was no longer “normal” and that the monsters she’d loved watching on TV and in movies as a kid were real. Worse, she had to come to terms with the fact that her family not only knew about the monsters but that they ran in the family and no one told her. This is a theme that continues into Nocturnal Serenade.

That was enough to throw at poor Mac in one book. At least in my mind it was. I explained to the pro who wanted to know why she wasn’t having sex – preferably often – in Origins was that she had more than enough to cope with as it was. She was tracking down a potential mass murderer. She was wondering if she was losing her mind and then wondering if the world had gone insane when she sees someone actual shift shapes in front of her. Then she has to accept that she turns furry – without having to rent or buy a costume. Exactly when was she supposed to find the mental space to find someone she cared enough about to have sex?

Fortunately, readers seemed to agree with me. One of the nicest comments I had about the book was one that compared it to the Dresden Files. Fantastical elements mixed with real life in a way that makes sense. No one emailed or posted reviews asking why there was no sex or why the book wasn’t written in first person. Instead, they seemed to appreciate the book as it was written and isn’t that what we, as writers, want?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I mixed genres in Origins and I mixed in even more in Nocturnal Serenade. I added the sexual element in the second book. Why? Because it seemed the natural progression of the story. Mac is still learning to deal with what’s happened to her, but it isn’t the sole driving force of her life now. She’s been part of the local pride long enough to be drawn to another member. More importantly, she is drawn to him as a woman, not just on the animal level. Does it help that he also shifts into a jaguar? Absolutely.

But the sexual aspect is still only one part of the book. It is still primarily a police procedural mixed with family issues. The former because that is who Mac is. The latter because her mother is being threatened. Add in her grandmother who comes to town after learning that her daughter, Mac’s mother, has been hurt and you have a lot of family issues flying around.

Nocturnal Haunts is sort of the odd ball of the three. While there is a hat tip to the fantastical element of the novels, it doesn’t play much of a role in the story. Haunts is a straight police procedural. Will it fly as such? All I know is that it seems to be, at least so far.

In my mind, all three titles are police procedurals with a twist. That is usually how I present them. They aren’t urban (or contemporary) fantasy because that isn’t the main thrust of the novels. They sure aren’t paranormal romances because, well, they just aren’t. There’s certainly not enough sex in them to come close to qualifying. Nor is the sex the focus of the plot. Even now that Mac is involved with someone, that is, as I said, more in the line of character development than as a plot device.

Is it possible to write in just one genre these days? Absolutely. But, in my experience at least, it is much more fun if you can play in several sandboxes at once. The key is in finding the ones that are right for you and for your book. It’s easier in short stories to stick with just one but why would you if you don’t have to.

For me, I’ll always mix genres. Hopefully, I’ll be able to balance them in a way that makes sense to the plot and with regard to the characters. Most of all, I hope I’ll be able to do so in a way readers enjoy. After all, isn’t that what every writer hopes for?

20 responses to “Mixing Genres or Genre Mix-up?

  1. ppaulshoward

    Chuckle Chuckle.

    I had to laugh about people wanting “sex” in _Nocturnal Origins_. Some people were complaining about another urban fantasy series I reading because the first book lacked romance (read sex). What was funny to me was that I saw the beginnings of a possible romance and was correct. Oh, in this series the main characters did have sex later on *but* it didn’t make their relationship run anymore smoothly. Just like it wouldn’t in a real relationship. [Evil Grin]

    Oh, I do think mixing genres can be done well and IMO you did it here.

    • Paul, it still amazes me the way publishers and agents try to force something into a mold that it really doesn’t fit. And thanks for the kind words. They really do mean a lot.

  2. Thank you.

    Maybe it is just me, I find that most sex scenes get in the way of the story, break the rhythm of the telling. I had not considered before that this could be because they were jammed in at the direction of some ‘helpful’ agent of the publishing industry.

    • I happen to feel the same way about a lot of books. The sex seems to be put in just to have it there. I guess I’ve had it drummed into my head so often that if something doesn’t progress the plot or character development, it probably shouldn’t be in the book.

    • Yes. When they’re needed — warning there’s sex in the vamp books — they don’t break the flow. Though I’ll still sometimes skip them when reading :-P

      • I don’t know what’s worse. Those scenes where the writer tries to find every possible — and often impossible — word for sex or penis or breast or whatever or those scenes that are written like an instruction manual — tab A inserts into slot B, pant, repeat.

      • As you have written the best one I have ever read in a long time, one that is more than justified by the plot, advances the story and does not leave me feeling like the remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair, i.e. the marble stair case is cold and hard …

        • actually my favorite — that I’ve written — is the one in Heart and Soul, between a long-married couple, who hasn’t ever consummated. And THAT one Dan helped with, because I wanted it both funny and tender. He came up with the idea to make it both.

          • Thats the one I am talking about…although, no, it was not … well, I don’t want to give anything away to those who have yet had the pleasure.

            • okay, okay, I also love when the poor man’s pipe breaks. I DO like SOME of my writing. The editors demanded sex in those books… so I gave them sex. (Evil grin.)

  3. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I remember that. Person and lack of sexual content was the furtherest thing from a concern for me.

  4. An “effective” sex scene in a novel is unlikely to be appropriate in context because the emotions thus aroused are probably not those of the novel. An erotic scene in a thriller, a horror novel, a comedic novel — pretty much anything but a contemporary novel — will essentially disrupt the mood the author is building, unsettling the tempo and requiring the author reset the mood. It is not the sex per se, it is the fact it is not contributing to the novel’s emotional thrust; it would be equally problematic to include a comedic scene in a horror novel or thriller.

    It is already hard enough to effectively build and sustain a novel’s mood; there is no need to increase the challenge.

    • Oh, Poop! ;-)

    • eh eh eh eh eh. You said thrust. (What? I haven’t had enough caffeine!)

      • Yup – reckoned I owed at least one cheap pun. And in all honesty, if the story is a romance (in the modern, not classic, sense) a sex scene might well be appropriate and not disruptive of narrative. But the writer must keep in mind the overall tone of the novel and write the scene accordingly lest it be an even more jarring speed bump. (And yes, before you ask, that is the obligatory cheap pun in this contribution. I will note en passant that the daughtorial unit & I, inspired by acquisition of a new CD from the Irish band Flogging Molly, once determined that pretty much ANY gerund-noun pairing can be interpreted as a reference to masturbation.)

  5. First I’ld like to state that for those who haven’t read Amanda’s books that I highly recommend them. I really liked them, and thought they were very well written (the two don’t necessarily go together.)

    I would have classed them as urban fantasy and not gave it much more thought. They do remind me of some of the best paranormal romance I have read, without the romance. Which really says that probably what I consider the best in the paranormal romance was written with an actual workable plot, and the romance woven in to fit the paranormal romance genre.

    It is often obvious when authors force scenes into a book that don’t belong, and you would think editors would figure out that a disjointed book with elements that don’t fit, will be less successful than one that doesn’t fit comfortably in convenient marketing cubbyhole.

    I look forward to more Mac, hopefully a lot more ;)

    • bearcat, thanks so much for the kind words. I’ll be honest, when I was writing Serenade, I hadn’t planned for there to be sex. Silly me. This was one book that pretty much dictated itself to me, no matter what my outline said. You can ask Sarah and Kate. They got to listen to me complain — well, whine really — about how the characters simply weren’t cooperating. ;-)